If you are trying to lose weight, it’s common to feel a bit uneasy about eating out at restaurants. A lot of people think you can’t eat healthy when you eat out at a dine-in restaurant or a fast food restaurant. Some people assume the only way to eat healthy and stay true to your diet and your fitness path is to NOT go out to eat. I’m here to tell you that’s NOT the case. What this post will illustrate is that you can take a couple different approaches– each which will let you enjoy great tasting food and stay on your diet plan and keep moving toward your goals.
Going out to eat is a part of life- whether you’re celebrating with friends, enjoying a date night with that special someone, taking a client out to eat, or maybe you totally ran out of groceries and are super hungry. Hey, it happens. The point is, most of us, in normal (non-quarantine times) find ourselves out at restaurants at least 1–2x a week. While social and business gatherings often revolve around grabbing a bite to eat, it doesn’t have to destroy your progress toward your goals. And it doesn’t mean you have to be a party pooper and be THAT GIRL asking for plain grilled chicken and steamed broccoli and just water! Read on for my eating out healthy hacks and consider some new approaches. I know you’ll be so glad you read this post. Welcome back to enjoying eating out again!
Don’t fall into the “All or Nothing” trap.
I used to fall into the trap of thinking, “well, I’m going out to eat and there are literally NO healthy options there and I’m just going to be miserable looking at everyone else’s food and it’s going to be the absolute worst.” That left me with two options:
- The Avoid Temptation Approach. Skip the meal altogether and stay home.
- The Last Meal Approach: Order a monster binge burger with fries and dessert that leaves me nearly comatose for the rest of the night
Neither of those are fun. While skipping the meal allowed me to prepare a healthy meal at home, I’d be grumpy the whole time and miss out on a chance to spend quality time with friends and family who I care about. Going out and splurging on a huge meal, drinks and dessert while out with friends was a good time, sure, but I would feel terrible afterwards due to the shock I was putting on my body by completely overindulging, and guilty that I didn’t make better food choices.
There ain’t nothing wrong with a cheat meal. I love me some cheat meal. But if I made every meal at a restaurant a treat, I’d have more than is healthy. And a girl’s got goals. So I had to develop a strategy for eating out that would allow me to reach those goals while still having a great time and socializing.
So here’s my advice. You want to know how to make solid healthy but YUMMY choices at restaurants- so that if you go out to eat or hit a drive through regularly for whatever reason- work or personal related– you can not blow your diet with each meal. THEN, I’ll explain how you PLAN for the fun nights or lunches or brunches out with friends- or cheat meals- where you can eat what you want and STILL- yes still not BLOW YOUR DIET. It’s all doable.
1. Do your research.
Before I go to any restaurant, or coffee shop, or fast food drive-through, I look up the menu ahead of time. Most eateries provide nutritional information for their menu, which is so incredibly helpful (especially if you’re counting macros). Peruse the menu and identify the items that you could enjoy while being true to your health. Many times, I’ll even order an appetizer as my main meal (lettuce wraps MMMMM) if I can’t find something I can work with from the entree menu. Most times, I already have what I’m going to order planned ahead of time, so I don’t get distracted by the pictures of mac and cheese on the restaurant menu. Once you get in the habit of doing this– you’ll memorize many items and also have an idea for caloric counts on common items. When you first start looking up nutritional information at restaurants- be prepared for some surprises. I remember when I first started looking up things at fast-casual restaurants and was surprised that the “healthier” looking options were often WAY MORE calorically dense than the “regular” items. Example- I recall looking up at Arby’s– they have “Market Fresh” Sandwiches on whole grain bread. Did you know that a TURKEY SANDWICH has 710 calories vs. a Medium Roast BEEF which has 360 calories?? Note: I am NOT saying one is “worse” than the other!! Seriously– the point is, depending on if at that moment– you have the calories to spare– get the turkey. But maybe that day you know you are going out to dinner. And if you wanted to stay at say your caloric deficit (like, let’s say this day we are using as an example is not a “cheat day”- I’ll explain that down below how I define it in my life– and you wanted to stay under 1600 calories for the day– if you know you are going out to eat that night, you probably want to use most of your calories for that night-) you’d go with the BEEF. And if you really wanted to cut some more calories — lose the bun. That probably cuts 150-200 calories more! KNOWLEDGE IS POWER– the more you know 1) what your caloric deficit goal is and you TRACK IT every day and 2) you know what the nutritional information is at restaurants, you can eat what you want. You don’t have to only order dry chicken breast.
2. Don’t be afraid to be a diva.
When I was following the Paleo diet, I found myself skipping most outings or being that person who says, “I’ll just have a water.” I couldn’t figure out how to order something at a restaurant that would fit the guidelines I was trying to follow, and felt bad for asking so many questions. But honestly- just own it. Ask what your vegetables will be cooked in. Ask what’s in their vaguely named signature sauce. I kid you not, I am this person:
Can I please have the buffalo chicken burger, but wrapped in lettuce instead of a bun? Please leave off the mayo and cheese, but could you add extra tomato? And instead of fries, could I get a side of veggies but cooked dry instead of in butter? THANK YOU SOOOOOOOO MUCH!
And make sure you leave a big tip.
3. Look for keywords.
Think about how you cook your food at home. Do you deep fry, glaze, and smother in sauce? Or do you steam, bake, and roast? When you go out to eat, look for the keywords that imply healthy cooking- steamed veggies, baked chicken, grilled fish. While “salad” might ring your healthy bell, beware- many restaurant salads become calorie bombs with the addition of croutons, candied nuts, crispy wontons and sugary dressings. How to handle? Don’t cut out all the fun stuff. First of all- make your choices. Is this a cheat meal- or this a meal where you gotta be at 500 calories to stay on track? If so- and you really want that salad– ask for a few things taken off — HINT: croutons are easy- they are high calorie- and getting salad dressing on the side is easy– you’ll be surprised how much your salad can taste great without a TON of dressing. And here’s another idea: eat half. Restaurant portion sizes today are usually DOUBLE what is needed. Start getting your BODY AND MIND used to 1) that you can eat anything you want and 2) you don’t need to eat like today is your last meal. When you remove the limits — your binge desires WILL dissipate I promise! Most restaurants now even have a “lighter fare” menu! While these might still require a little diva-ing, you can almost always find a great option here.
How to PLAN ahead and use intermittent fasting, calorie cycling and cheat days to REALLY enjoy life.
Now- I am happy to share with you how I’ve figured out a program that lets me DIET– stay on a caloric deficit plan that will help me lose weight at a reasonable pace– and yet also — have 1-2 cheat meals/days a week– so I can plan for Friday night date night with adult beverages and amazing food and sometimes burgers or wings on Saturdays– yea- I get to do all this, every week, and stay on track on my diet. This is how to LIVE while on your way to get fit people. YOU’LL WANT TO READ (AND WATCH THE VIDEOS AT THE BOTTOM– LONG- BUT DETAILED SO YOU UNDERSTAND HOW TO DO THIS) THIS POST I WROTE ABOUT ALL MY MISTAKES IN THE PAST TRYING TO LOSE WEIGHT AND HOW I CAME TO FIGURE OUT WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT. CLICK HERE!!!
It’s all about planning. And tracking.
So– I’ll be as simple as possible here- go read that post above I linked to for DETAIL. When you know what your caloric deficit is– that’s what you focus on each day. Next, I have been doing intermittent fasting for years. I practice a 16:8 window. So I typically get up, have my coffee then don’t eat until around 1pm– and I finish eating by 8 or 9pm. IF is not anything magic other than it shortens the time period you eat so you — EAT LESS. Duh.
Next, I PLAN OUT MY WEEK so I have lower calorie days and “higher” (meaning at my caloric window of 1600) — so instead of Sunday-Sunday- every day I eat at 1600 calories, I’ll do every other day 1400 calories. That means 3-4 days x 200 calories off = 600-800 calories per week saved. Now, you can add that to your planned CHEAT DAY– so say it’s Friday– on Friday you take those 600-800 calories and have them at dinner. So on Friday you could be at 2400 -2600 calories– see how that works? And when I really up my game- I add one “cleanse” day per week- where I fast from say dinner on Monday to dinner on Tuesday. That typically will cut another 1000 calories perhaps. It all depends how hard core you want to go. Key thing is this: know your caloric deficit. Plan out your week. TRACK YOUR FOOD. It’s one thing to plan this out but if you don’t track your food– and if you SNACK (click here to read why I now avoid snacking like the plague)– you could be so far OFF from this plan and then you’ll be sad because you might actually gain weight vs. lose. Don’t do that.
Lastly- when my man and I go out to eat, we often will order appetizers for dinner. Not to be dorky but honestly– restaurant portions are HUGE. Quite often if we both order an appetizer, we may end up splitting a meal or just getting a dessert to split. Trust me, if you go to a nice restaurant and you get appetizers and dessert and wine or cocktails, your bill will still be high and you can tip the server WELL so they won’t be pissed that you didn’t order 2 steak dinners. Get this- most steak dinner portions can be 16oz. DO YOU. KNOW WHAT A RECOMMENDED SERVING SIZE IS FOR ME?? 4-6OZ. That means that steak serving is 3-4x my serving size. I prefer to spend my calories on things I want. Sometimes I may want a hujazz cheeseburger — sometimes I prefer more martinis…it’s all about balance. But I SURE LOVE being able to go out to a nice restaurant on Friday night and. know I can not have to count all my calories because I have a nice surplus stored up!
See how that works??
When it comes to dining out, it’s easy to stress. Don’t! Healthy options are available no matter where you are. And if it’s time for you to #treatyoself, then go for it. Enjoy your meal, enjoy your company, and enjoy a good time. Take these tips with you and see what healthy items you can find. What are YOUR healthy eating out tips??